City boss Paul Lambert praised his team’s never-say-die attitude as Chris Martin scored another last-gasp goal to earn the league leaders a 1-1 draw with MK Dons.
With just five games left, the Canaries now have a nine-point lead over Leeds in third place and while automatic promotion cannot be achieved at Leyton Orient on Tuesday night, the games are running out thick and fast and that buffer remains a very healthy one.
It was a frustrating afternoon in many ways, with another poor refereeing performance adding to the Carrow Road irritation, but Martin’s 90th minute free-kick will at least keep City spirits high ahead of Tuesday’s trip to east London.
Aaron Wilbraham gave the Dons an unlikely 20th minute lead but he was later given a second yellow card for a petulant trip on Oli Johnson and he will be rueing that decision after 22-goal Martin slammed it in from the edge of the box seconds later.
And Lambert was absolutely delighted with City’s application in a game they deserved to win in all fairness. This Canary outfit never know when they are beaten.
“I thought we were excellent, I really did,” he said in his post-match press conference. “We started the first-half really well and their goalkeeper made some terrific saves but we got caught with their goal.
“But in the second-half I thought we were excellent, really excellent. I always think something will happen [late on in games] with the type of players we have and it was a terrific free-kick from Chrissy [Martin].
“I couldn’t ask for any more from the lads, I thought they were great. Paul Ince has got a good side at MK Dons but the amount of chances we created pleased me.”
The home side certainly started the brighter and Gary Doherty – returning to the XI after missing the Stockport victory with a dead leg – had two decent headed chances within the first seven minutes.
Both were cleared, however, first from an MK defender and the second time through an acrobatic save from Dons ‘keeper Willy Gueret. But it was certainly the league leaders who were in the ascendency.
They should have taken the lead in the 14th minute when a darting Russell Martin run resulted in a glorious ball to skipper Grant Holt but his left-footed drive was again kept out by Gueret. Five minutes later, Holt was in the thick of it again and although the Canary talisman did well to get ahead of the Dons ‘stopper after an Adam Drury cross, his poke was just wide.
There was a twist in the first-half tale though when the visitors took an undeserved lead through a bizarre effort by Wilbraham at the back post. R Martin failed to clear a Dons corner and his glanced header fell to the Dons striker, who tapped home.
The rest of the opening 45 was a source of frustration for the Carrow Road full house, with referee Kevin Friend not endearing himself to the natives.
Yet again Holt was offered no protection and some of Friend’s decisions were rather baffling. But towards the end of the half, it was the Canaries who once again seized the initiative and Holt – again – was unlucky not to have opened his account.
There was even time for a disallowed goal in an action-packed first-half but after a Darel Russell free-kick floated over Gueret’s head and into the net, Chris Martin was adjudged to have fouled the former Swansea man in the process.
It was a cagey start to the second period and the Dons were doing their level best to stifle any Norwich pressure using any tactic possible.
But on 57, City really should have got back on level terms and it was that man Holt again who was involved. Simon Lappin’s sensational left-wing cross found the captain’s head but unfortunately for Lambert’s men, it went agonisingly wide.
Five minutes later, Holt again fashioned a great chance but after twisting and turning, the tireless forward’s shot was again well saved.
On 68, yep, you guessed it, Holt, enjoyed another wonderful opportunity but his header – after a pin-point Russell Martin cross – went straight to Gueret in the Dons goal.
But for all the Norwich pressure, Ince’s side could have wrapped things up in the 73rd minute through Jermaine Easter. Declan Rudd in the City goal was more than a match for the sharp-shooter though and he did excellently to block him with the goal at Easter’s mercy.
But City kept pressing and probing and it would have been criminal had they not have got anything for their efforts. However, after the under-fire referee failed to spot a blatant handball by Wilbraham in the box, the home faithful must have thought it would be ‘one of those days’.
Lambert admitted afterwards that “Michael Jordan couldn’t have done any better” and even Ince was gracious enough to concede that it was a blatant spot-kick.
A second yellow for Wilbraham minutes later did, however, give Norwich even more impetus and there was a huge sigh of relief when Martin fired in his 90th minute free-kick from the resulting foul on substitute Johnson.
However, there was one piece of bad news to come from today’s encounter, with 30-goal Holt now ruled out of the next two games after picking up his tenth booking of the season.
City: Rudd; R Martin, Doherty, Nelson, Drury; McNamee (Johnson 66), Smith (Elliott 81), Russell, Lappin; Holt, C Martin. Subs not used: Steer, Gill, Spillane, Rose, Hughes.